Mystery ‘irritant’ surfaces again at Y-12

y9731twoBuilding 9731 is the original pilot plant for uranium-enrichment work at Y-12.

A mysterious airborne “irritant,” previously reported inside the oldest building at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, has surfaced again — this time outside the building.

Plant spokeswoman Ellen Boatner confirmed that employees walking past Building 9731 have recently reported experiencing symptoms, such as coughing and throat discomfort.

“Two reports of minor throat irritation and coughing symptoms after walking nearby the building have occurred,” Boatner said in an email response to questions.

All of those afflicted by airborne irritants have been evaluated, and it’s been determined there are no health problems, she said.

The issue apparently was first recognized in February when a security police officer entered Building 9731, which was built in 1943 as the original pilot facility for uranium-enrichment operations at the Manhattan Project site.

Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office at Y-12, previously acknowledged that five employees had reported symptoms after being inside the buildding.

Staff members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported in February that the cause of the irritation was believed to be “vapors or dust from an activity to process lithium hydroxide.” The work inside Building 9731 was being conducted by the Development Division, which is Y-12’s research organization.

Wyatt confirmed that Development work was taking place, but he would not discuss the lithium.

Boatner said Y-12’s industrial hygiene group has been monitoring the situation.

As a precautionary measure, the sidewalk has been “cordoned off” near Building 9731, she said. “Efforts will continue to identify and eliminate any airborne irritants.”

A feature on Atomic City Underground allows readers to sign up for email updates and receive a notice each time new information is posted on the news blog. Just put your email address in the box on the lower right of the blog’s front page and follow instructions. Thanks to all loyal readers.

This entry was posted in CNS, History, Manhattan Project Park, NNSA, Y-12 on by .

About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.